The Great Commission in the Modern Age: Reaching “Nations”?

Tags

,

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28.28-20 NIV

Matthew 28.18-20 is often called the Great Commission.  The interpretation usually has to do with preaching the gospel and so on. Those who are a little more sophisticated are prone to point out that the main idea has to do with making disciples with the steps to go, baptist and teach.  These are all solid ideas but what does it mean for us today.

“Nations” doesn’t mean nations as much as it means peoples in Matt 28.19.  Many choose to translate it “gentiles” and in its frequent usages, the word can mean “gentiles”.  How does all this play into its modern applications.

From Matthew’s world, scholars commonly recognize that Matthew had written his story for Jewish audiences.  I wont rehash the argument in favor of a Jewish audience, but the command to go to gentiles had great significance in that world.  For Jesus, he was talking to Jewish disciples who would eventually go to gentiles.  For Matthew’s audience, they existed in a Jewish community and would eventually parallel the ministry of the original disciples by going to gentiles.  In those days, Jews and gentiles did not always mix well together.  The gentiles, for SOME Jews, would be considered the “other”.  Just like today, people preferred to socialize with those they felt comfortable.  The gentiles then would take them out of their comfort zone.  Jesus was not saying that the disciples should replace their ministry to the Jews with gentile ministry as much as they were to break out of their comfort zone and begin associating with the “others”.

For modern Christians, part of the Great Commission calls for breaking out of one’s comfort zone.  Christians shouldn’t always stick with their social economic class, race or other comfort zones.  They should fulfill the Great Commission by first befriending, advocating and eventually making disciples of the “others”.  This may require breaking out of traditional modes of faith community or religious buildings. This requires thinking, but first, we have to acknowledge that there’re those who fit the label of the “others” in our lives before we can think about how we can connect with them.

An Advent of Love? Reflection on the 140 + dead in Pakistan

Tags

, ,

“I urge, the, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone …” 1 Timothy 2.1 (NIV)

 

As we approach Advent, tragedies occur all over the world.  Sydney saw its rare hostage crisis where one of my friends’ colleague lost her life. Equally tragic is the death of 141 people, mostly children, in Pakistan after the Talibans launched a revenge attack against a school.  Meanwhile, debates still continue among Christians on whether torture is a legitimate practice against enemies.  As I look around, people give different reactions through social media and newspaper op ed columns.  I notice something peculiar.

 

I notice that while Christians will continue to justify torture as a valid method against enemies, there’s some call for prayer for people in Australia.  However, there’s little to no call for prayer for the families of the dead in Pakistan.  While we construct logically sophisticated justification (even from scripture) on why we can torture, many of us Christians don’t even care to pray for these Pakistani victims.  Why?

 

I can think of thousands of reasons, but I bet one glaring reason is the way we western Christians think of the world.  Sydney, Australia, a city that deserves our prayer, is western enough.  After all, the Aussies are “better” allies than the Pakistanis.  So we pray for them but not the Pakistanis.  The Pakistanis belong to the “other”. In fact, aren’t all Pakistanis Muslims and if so (I’m not saying that they are), aren’t they are political enemies?  If their children die, they can go straight to hell where our enemies belong.  This simplistic and warped worldview has colored our priorities to the degree that it has affected the way we pray and the way we worship.  While we shout in favor of separation of church and state, our politics continue to cloud our judgment and more importantly, our spirituality.

 

In our response towards crisis and in our prayer life, we demonstrate the kind of value we hold.  Actually, many may come up with thousands of verses to justify this and that, but some verses like the one I quoted above is straightforward as part of the Christian worship. If you don’t believe it and can read Chinese, go read my three works on the Pastoral Letters.  If you don’t believe me, go read some commentaries on 1 Timothy.  In this case, our worldview causes us to make disgusting, xenophobic and worst of all, anti-Christian choices, right in our worship. This begs the question whether our ethics matches the kind of God we worship. This is an important concept to contemplate during Advent or any other time. Do we even worship the same God the author of 1 Timothy worshipped or do we worship some other version of God?  Before we can heal the world, perhaps we need healing first.

The Lord’s Army in Hong Kong? A Blasphemous Prayer!

Tags

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2.13-14 (NIV)

 

I’m usually quite tolerant of all kinds of prayers because after all prayers represent where we are in our spiritual journey and sometimes we take some detours, but certain detours are simply paths to destruction.  This week gives us such a prayer on the first Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of hope.

 

Let me summarize the whats app screen capture of a prayer from the 611 church membership.  I saw this on a friend’s Facebook and I simply couldn’t believe my eyes.  It says something like this.  “I just heard the sharing of a Christian lady cop. Today through the Spirit’s guidance, we have decided to do a prayer walk around the police HQ so that the Lord’s Army (HK police) would have greater power to clear protesters and lessen the bloodshed.

 

I just saw the wonderful news of the police clearing the sites.  We thank our God the heavenly Father’s miraculous power that enables the police to use the least amount of force to clear the site.  Our heavenly Father watches over HK.  We continue to pray for a peaceful life in HK…”

 

Besides the lack of factual accuracy to this entire prayer about the “least amount of force,” the description of HK police as the Lord’s Army simply curses rather than blesses HK.  I’ve often say that the zealous ignoramus does more damage than the cold intellectual.  This case is such a perfect illustration.

 

At best, we simply can’t sustain the believe based on biblical evidence that the HK police is the Lord’s Army.  Even at their best behavior, they can’t qualify as the Lord’s Army. There’s nowhere in Scripture that the Lord’s Army is equated to any kind of human security force.

 

Since it is the Advent Sunday of hope this first Advent Sunday, let me look at one place where the Lord’s Army did appear in the NT.  Luke 2.13-14 record a heavenly host parsing God for the great event that was the first Christmas.  The heavenly host joining with the present angels were praising God.  In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament), the word for “host” can be descriptive of army in the heavenly realm (e.g. 1 Kings 22.19) sometimes being falsely worshipped by idol worshipping kings (e.g. 2. Chron. 33.3, 5).  In Luke 2, these angels celebrated the fact that God had chosen His first witnesses to be the poor shepherds so that the poor would receive the gospel of Jesus’ birth.  In other words, Jesus’ birth was praiseworthy because he had eliminated the disparity between social economic classes.  In fact, he favored those who were poor.

 

Let’s look now at the irony of this entire prayer being said on the eve of the first Sunday of Advent.  The protest of HK is precisely trying to eliminate the disparity between the social economic classes.  This first Advent Sunday is called the Sunday of hope.  Such a prayer murders hope.  By viewing the police force as the Lord’s Army as they cleared up a movement that has sprinkles of the message from the first Christmas, the prayer is a blasphemy against the very spirit of Advent.  It is an unacceptable prayer.

 

Will the HK police be the Lord’s Army?  It won’t even come close until the entire police force joins force to praise God for His work to break down social economic barriers.  Clearing up the protest site and creating further obstruction of local businesses may do the very opposite!  James 5.16 says that The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective in healing.  In this present situation, the prayer of an ignorant person is powerful and effective too in destroying any hope for human dignity.  A more appropriate prayer perhaps on this Sunday is an imprecatory prayer against all oppressive forces.  If you don’t want to pray the imprecatory prayer, let me share something positive from my church today as my family lights the Advent candle and read the following words. 

 

1st Sunday in Advent:

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the Sundayof Hope. Our hope is in God, and in his son Jesus Christ. He is the one appointed by God to be judge of all things, and he is the one through whom God has promised to save and redeem his people. And so we put our hope in Him as Savior and Lord.

 

The words of the prophet Isaiah, from Isaiah 9:5-7:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

 

We light this candle today to remind us that Jesus, the one who is given, whose kingdom will have no end…that he is our hope and the hope of the world.

 

Prayer: O God of Hope, Emmanuel, God with Us – we pray that you would send your light into our hearts at this time. Help us to live as hope-filled people, trusting in Jesus every day. Live in us and help us to live in you. By the power of the Holy Spirit, transform us so that our lives, our worship, our celebration, our time of preparation, may be pleasing unto you – both now, and forevermore. Amen.

 

PS. I realize that the prayer may not represent the official position of the 611 church in HK. I would however say that those in teaching leadership need to take up their mantle of the spiritual educator so that this kind of curse no longer lands on our suffering society.

Sample Scriptural Manipulation by the Western Religious Right (IV) – The Problem with Immigration and Ex. 23.9, Lev. 19.33, Dt. 10.19

“Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.” Exodus 23.9 (NIV)

 

This week, I continue to continue my series on evangelical Bible abuse.  I’ve decided to take a little break from talking about HK to complete this series.  I’ve read a popular and famous American systematic theologian (I loosely apply that term to him because many consider him one) on his take on politics and the Bible.  I’m going to deal with one issue he talks about in order to illustrate how tough it is to use the Bible to support your own agenda while opposing agenda of others.

 

Meaning

 

To start with, I have a very simple question to ask.  What if the Bible does not support my agenda? This author’s answer is simple. He can simply put in bold print “We have a very different situation today.” Now in principle, that is a good thing to do not with verses that do not agree with our conviction but to do that with every verse in the Bible. First we should examine the meaning of one verse he quotes. I would work with a few more verses simply because they often are read within the same corpus by Christians as part of the first books of the Bible, but I”m limited by space here.

 

Ex. 23.9 is a repeated idea from the injunction at Ex. 22.20.  The contexts of two similar  injunctions are different in that Ex. 22 talks about the individual Israelite while Ex. 23 talks about those who were judges over Israel. Thus, the different context shows the universality of this injunction both at the individual level and the judicial level.  This injunction is about as absolute as they come within the Torah.  Ex. 23.6-8 talk about bribes and lies and Ex. 23.10-11 talk about the needy.  Thus, the injunction has the same weightiness as bearing false witnesses and oppressing the needy.  This is not something we can just shrug off as being “for them.”  The historical situation tells us that Israel had always had needy people, some Hebrew and some foreigners.  This ongoing historical situation doesn’t just apply to the Exodus but ran all the way to the exile period.  The major difference however is that the political system of that time was different than today.

 

As we have already seen, the situations are indeed very different today than those days. Those days, the Bible had theocracy. Even within theocracy however, the determining factor for theocracy is whether the alien was willing to live within the covenant religion of Israel. Due to the fact that religion was part of Israel’s law, it was a requirement.  Is our law based on a covenant religion?

 

Even without the covenant religion of the ancient Israel, we can at least draw the conclusion that helping the foreigner ranks right up there with being truthful (which we surely can’t make situational) or helping the needy (which most of us can’t make situation with a clear conscience).  The tension then is between what was particular and what was universal.

 

Consequences for Misunderstanding

 

Since this theologian speaks against any kind of help for illegal immigrants, he uses the least amount of scripture to support whatever cause he wants mainly because scripture does not support much of what he is saying. He tries to cite scholarly studies that support the closing of border in Israel’s history to prove that border was indeed God’s will. The trouble with that is whether anything from Israel’s politics back then could be applicable to today’s America. If he sincerely believes that we have a very different situation today (and he is right), why would he cite the border situation back from ancient Israel? The fact of border in Israel was due to the importance of keeping the Israelites together due to their ideally homogeneous faith. We have no such situation today in our multi-faith and pluralistic society (unless he still insists that we’re a Christian nation, which he seems to also insist and that we’re still a homogeneous society).

 

The theologian’s logic goes further off track when he insists that closing the border and insisting simulation is the perfect solution. Without a doubt, as an American, I believe we have to deport escaped criminals but we do that with all the other countries anyway. I understand some of my readers are going to object to what I say as naïve liberal nonsense, but from a moral point of view, the whole idea of closing border is problematic to US history. At one point, American land belonged to the Native Americans. Imagine if the Native Americans decided that it was a bad idea to help the colonists in Virginia Colony as well as the Plymouth Colony survive and just let them starve to death. Imagine worse. Imagine if they decided to “close the border” and just kill all white men as trespassers. IF they had a closed-border policy, America wouldn’t be what it is now. The original spirit of this nation versus the spirit represented by this theologian is at variance. No matter how he justifies himself, his stance is basically historically illogical. The immigration situation in the US today is less than best, but his solution is simply untenable from an ethical and biblical point of view.

 

Some of his other steps are probably helpful in terms of practical application: teaching children to learn English to help assimilate, helping illegal immigrants to gain legal status, a compassionate path to move from illegal to legal immigration. These are all practical steps, but some of his other steps simply cannot be ethically and historically sound even if they work (and I doubt that they do).

 

At the same time, there’re issues that these verses do not deal with either. The greater idea of justice needs to be dealt with as well. For example, when funding goes to helping illegal immigrants, many of our shrinking middle class are feeling the impact of cut government spending to help the locals that are in need. People like injured veterans and honest citizens who hold several jobs to make ends meet will have great need as well. How about the funding to schools that are underprivileged even if those who are affected are honest citizens working their hardest to make ends meet. In all this, where would the discussion about greedy rich who are cheating the system? True justice is fluid, nuanced, prioritized and even gradated. These and many other topics are all justice issues that can’t be solved simply by appealing to the text that seems to support us while distancing ourselves from texts that do not support us and shout, “We simply have a different situation today.” No, ALL biblical situations are different, not just the select few.  If you appeal to history, you can’t have your historical cake and eat it too.

 

As I said before, the problem is not the biblical text. The problem is the interpreter.

 

More Cheap Unity? Truth that Divides!: 2 Corinthians 11.24, Paul, and the Subversive Gospel

Tags

, , , ,

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 

2 Corinthians 11.24 (NIV)

 

It is a well-known fact that I love reading the writings of Jesus scholar Larry Hurtado. His latest blog interaction with the work of Paula Fredriksen intrigues me, not only because her work was widely cited in my book on Paul in Chinese, but because of its implications for many HK churches, especially in light of the further call for harmony and tolerance for another fake election by the Anglican provincial secretary on HK TVB. I will cite below what Fredriksen claims from Hurtado’s blog. At some near future point, I will read her work in its entirety at which point I can give it a fair reading.

 

“In a recent publication, she probes the matter by first addressing Paul’s references to being on the receiving end of floggings by fellow Jews (five times) in the course of his Gentile mission (2 Corinthians 11:24).[2] Her cogent hypothesis is essentially this: Paul required his pagan converts to withdraw from worshipping the gods of the Roman world. Given the place and significance of the gods in Roman-era life, this would have generated serious tensions with the larger pagan community. As he identified himself as a Jew and linked up with Jewish communities in the various diaspora cities where he established early assemblies of Jesus-followers (ekklesias), these Jewish communities could have feared that they would bear the brunt of these tensions. So, Paul was meted out synagogue discipline in the form of the 39 lashes as punishment on several occasions (he mentions five).”

 

If what Fredriksen says is true, then Paul was not punished because he preached the gospel as people traditionally believe, but because the gospel Paul preached caused disharmony both with society and within the synagogue system. Let’s think about the current culture of the HK mega-churches that tend to speak for oppressive government policies. The best example is from one church where members who opposed oppressive governmental policies would be punished by having their memberships revoked from the church. Other less severe but equally misleading responses would be to call for harmony at all costs without adequate discussion on the issues that divide.

 

In essence, if Fredriksen’s claim is true, then some churches behave more like Paul’s Jewish oppositions than Paul. Paul has already shown that the gospel is not mainly meant to cause harmony. Truth doesn’t necessarily harmonize. Quite often in Paul’s ministry, it confronted and divided. When people point out falsehood, the church’s job is not to call for harmony but to call for discussion, circumspection and introspection or even repentance. False harmony punishes the wrong people and in the long run ruins lives. Getting truth right is tough.  Living truth out is even tougher.  It takes prioritizing ideas and conflict, just like Paul did in his life.  It takes tough struggles over issue rather than a simplistic call for cheap unity while covering over the holes in our imperfect ideals.  The only question to ask of such churches is this, “What kind of faith do we hold when we behave more like Paul’s opposition than Paul?”

Cheap Unity Again?: 2 Corinthians 6.14 and Occupy HK

Tags

, , ,

14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them
    and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.”

17 Therefore,

“Come out from them
    and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
    and I will receive you.”

18 And,

“I will be a Father to you,
    and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6.14-18 (NIV)

I’m going to blog about chapter 18 of my book. I’ve already blogged about it before as a negative example for how to use scripture. In my book, I’ve already established that the passage was not about marriage between believers and unbelievers. Rather, it is about unity between radically different value systems within the church possibly propagated by different parties. I believe this passage has huge implications for HK in the present climate among SOME pastors to call for unity. The Chinese Christian blog sphere also lit up with discontent and outrage.  I believe Paul’s teaching prohibits the church from a compromised unity.  In a situation where black and white are not neutralized by heavy shades of grey, perhaps, unity is not the answer, as we shall see below.

 

The passage talks about being yoked together possibly borrowing from farming practice of putting two different animals together to plow. In this metaphor, Paul was talking about working together with unbelievers, but was Paul’s writing a total prohibition on working with unbelievers? I don’t believe so. The subsequent verses show that certain anti-Christian results that came from working with unbelievers such as idolatry. In other words, you can’t work with unbelievers if the results go against the fundamentals of Christian value. For believers who may be tempted to link themselves to such anti-Christian values, they ought to separate themselves. This is the essence of Paul’s message. Let’s look at the HK situation.

 

The fault line between the two parties in the church is political where one party sides with the government and the other does not. Before we call for reconciliation and unity, let’s see what reconciliation consists of. The most successful example of recent history is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South African abolition of Apartheid. In fact, this bloodless revolution has caused other countries to form TRC’s, countries as varied as Colombia, Nigeria, Canada and so on. In reconciliation, those who are wrong do not get an easy escape. They confess that they’re wrong not because they hold a different opinion and reject others’ opinions, but because they actually hold the WRONG opinion about race and politics and must confess their falsehood. Bring that to HK. Can anyone honestly say that siding with the government that lies repeatedly to its own people is RIGHT? Is oppression and dishonesty part of our Christian value system?  We don’t need to sweep rubbish under the table right now. We need separation from lies. We need truth, even if that truth tears our church asunder.  This recent protest movement has become the mirror in the church to show where everyone stands in relation of oppression and dishonesty. We need those who have supported lies in the faith community to 1) confess their sins 2) to separate from such anti-Christian values. The preachers from those rich and large churches who have sided with governmental oppression should be the first to come out and confess their sins! I dare them to be an example to the flock by following Paul’s advice.

 

IF our church leaders are willing to take such harsh and courageous steps the way Desmond Tutu did, I’m all in favor of reconciliation and unity. Otherwise, count me out! So, if you want a Christian way to do unity and reconciliation, read, meditate and apply 2 Corinthians 6.14 for its real meaning instead of going for cheap unity because cheap unity will create more injury in the long run. So, for now, give me a break from this cheap unity talk because such unity is not just untenable; it’s immoral.

 

As I always say, the texts are not at fault. The interpreter is!

A Teacher’s Memory: The Power of Care and a Thank-You Note to My Teacher

“Love must be sincere.” Romans 12.9 (NIV)

 

The word “sincere” means something like “not-pretencious”.  This is not an exegetical blog. Instead, I want to share something personal and important from a recent experience.

 

An elegant elderly lady approached me after my sermon the last night in Toronto. She asked me a most unexpected question, “Did you go to Kowloon Tong Primary School?” I said, “Yes.”  She then said, “I remember you. I was your teacher.  You were the VP of the class.  The president of the class was more heavyset.  I always knew you were a bit special.”  It’s one of those awkward moments in my life that I was totally left speechless.  From a very vast immigrant audience that packed the sanctuary, I get this strange out-of-the-blue comment.  Finally, after I came to my senses, I said, “You must be mistaken. I was no VP material at that age.” She said, “No, I’m quite sure you were because your mother used to put her hair up in a bun and wore a bit more traditional Chinese clothing when she walked you to school.”  Then, she smiled.  I’m sure my teacher was right.  Never argue with your teacher!  The awkwardness of this moment was heightened by the long line of people waiting to talk to me or to have me sign books they purchased at the conference.  I eventually thanked her and she said a blessing to me.  Everyone moved along as usual. Whew, that was awkward.

 

You know what I hate?  I hate it when people say to me, “Oh, I remember you when you were a tiny tot. Wow, look at you now.”  Most of the time, people just wanted to show me that I’m still a little kid and to show me how successful they’re now in whatever profession they pursue after losing contact with me.  Having met people all over the world, I can smell condescension when I encounter it.  Luckily, this doesn’t happen often, but since Chinese people move all over the places to places where I speak, this happens more than I care to admit. However, this conversation is different.  I have to admit that I choked up slightlyand anyone who knows me knows that I don’t do choking up.  She really seemed very sincere and looked genuinely proud of me.

 

I think we all wanted to please our teacher deep down inside, especially the good ones, ever since we’re little. And to hear that from a former teacher is quite something because I’ve always remember myself as a fun-loving ADHD knucklehead who was often sent home a teacher’s note about how I didn’t pay attention in class. My favorite time was recess when I could play soccer on the school’s sandy pitch or play pranks on my classmates. Those are my childhood memories. She remembered something quite different.  What touched me was the way she remembers the things I didn’t, things that really don’t matter now, but still, things that are small details.  This teacher cares.

 

My point is not so much to brag about how special I was  because to me, I’m just an ordinary bloke doing a job.  The most special part of this experience is see that after all these years, I see a teacher who really cares about her student.  She didn’t care by making me get better grades, though my grades weren’t the worst.  She cared because she noticed the little things like the way my mother wore her hair or how the president of the class was a more heavyset kid.  This is something we can all learn from. Taking the time to care is an important trait for a person of great influence and character.  Perhaps, my teacher isn’t as famous as I am in the faith community, but I’m sure, she inadvertently influenced me to be who I am today, and for that, I thank her.  Whatever your name is, I thank you for stopping by and sharing your life with me now.  You’re a person of great influence and character, perhaps more than you ever know.

 

Take the time to show some love to someone today.  You never know how that will affect the person in the here and now or in the long run.

American Missionary Kenneth Bae Languishes in a Pyongyang Prison

samtsang98:

Please continue to join me and Grace as well as thousands of others to pray for the release of Kenneth Bae.

Originally posted on Grace Ji-Sun Kim:

View original 926 more words

Occupy Hong Kong, Love, and Unity: a Reflection on Ezekiel 11 and Bad Old Testament Proof Texts

Tags

I read and listened to a sermon this week that involved the usage of Ezekiel 11. To put matter into a broad context, the sermon contains a call to unity in light of the Occupy HK protest. The call is for people of various opinions to be united under the banner of Christ. Already, I’ve discussed conditions of unity in my other blogs.  Besides, one of my preaching students has also blogged on this particular sermon in Chinese.  Under certain premise unity is preferred. Under other premises unity is not preferred. Unity and love do not trump truth. Unity is empty without proper content. At least that’s the way I’ve been reading Paul in my academic teaching the last decade and a half on Paul. This blog will devote to one thing only while putting aside the unity question: the usage of Ezekiel 11 in the sermon. The reason why I pick on Ezekiel 11 usage is simple. The entire sermon only contains one scriptural reference AND the preacher got it completely backward.

 

The sermon uses Ezekiel 11.19 to proof text that unity was always the heart of God above influence by the (unbelieving) media. It is the proof text to call all people, especially professors of biblical studies and theology (a guild to which I belong), to become more biblical and less driven by media sensationalism. Let’s examine what biblically sound hermeneutics actually look like in answer to this preacher’s admonition.

 

Some of this blog will be based on my previous lectures, my two books (one commentary and one monograph) and a journal article written on Ezekiel. Since these are all done in Chinese, not everyone is aware of them. For those who interested, they can look at the link I shared above. I’ll be in the process of revising and rewriting the Ezekiel commentary in a few years, but I simply can’t wait that long to refute such blatant homiletical and hermeneutical error that has such widespread effect.

 

Ezekiel 11.19 says, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” (NIV) This is the context.

 

The first thing any reasonable interpreter does is to consider the overall structure of a section of a book. The section looks something like this.

 

Chapter 8 – ceremonial sins

Chapter 9 – punishment for ceremonial sins

Chapter 10 – departing glory

Chapter 11 – social sins, punishment for social sins, departing glory

 

Based on the structure, we can see that Ezk. 11 is mainly about the departing glory of God as a result of sin. We will elaborate on what that sin was.

 

The passage is part of a greater vision starting at Ezk. 11.1 where the Spirit lifts Ezekiel to the gate of the temple facing East. The problem with Judah at the time was injustice. The Spirit of the Lord God told Ezekiel that the leaders of Judah, especially two religious leaders (cf. Ezk. 8.11), plotted evil and committed murder against the people in Ezk. 11.6. Since it is a vision, it is hard to figure out whether such murders had actually taken place or that the murder was the result of Babylonian slaughter due to the fact of these religious leaders worshipping the false gods. The Hebrew word for the title of these leaders actually means “prince.” Perhaps the closest equivalence would be the word “governor.” They were probably left there to govern after Jahoiakim’s exile in 597 BC when Ezekiel was also exiled (cf. 2 Kings 24.10-17). Perhaps the one prince who would eventually come into sharp focus is Zedekiah, the puppet of Babylon. Instead of being worshippers of YHWH, they had now filled the power vacuum to do what they please. They had taken advantage of the pro-Babylonian politics and religion to gain power. They were the traitors to God, His covenant and His people. Either way, injustice was a theme and God condemned injustice. Anyone in the religious community giving advice in favor of oppression would be like these two religious leaders. GOD HATES INJUSTICE!

 

The prophecies against the leaders come in two statements of retributive justice where God would punish them with punishment that fits the crime. Ezk. 11.8, 10 tell us that the butchers will be butchered. Ezk. 11.8 says that the sword would be brought against them who use the sword. Ezk. 11.8-9 tell us that the leaders would experience a role reversal. Even though they thought of themselves as crème de la crème, they were in fact rubbish. Like cooking meat in a pot, these leaders would experience the burning of Jerusalem They would receive the reward of the burning coals.

 

The next section in Ezk. 11.16-25 shows Judah as a metaphorical body. Especially telling is the discussion of Ezk. 11.19 where God would give “them” (in plural) a singular heart. In other words, similar to the way Paul described the church, Judah was like a body. This body was meant to worship the right God instead of the false gods in Ezk. 11.18. The right worship would result in a just society as the body of believers would follow God’s law in Ezk. 11.20. God would then redeem them and their land much like a close and affectionate kinsman redeemer (cf. Lev. 25; Ruth 4.1-9). The process would not bypass the eradication of idolatry and injustice. There’s no easy gift of hear of flesh and unity without justice.

 

IF we read the passage carefully, we can see that the passage was precisely saying the very opposite of what the preacher said. The passage is saying that God hated injustice. A society like HK is doubtlessly unjust.  Church leaders who side with the unjust government also bring injustice into the faith community.   The society is not even “relatively just” when so many of its senior citizens had to collect cardboard boxes to pay rent and make ends meet. God hated injustice. The very fact these villains were condemned by God was due to their united effort to persecute those who were oppressed. Unity to side with injustice was one of the reasons why the Lord God condemned Judah. Unity under oppression was the true indicator of a heart of stone. Anyone who sides with injustice is indeed part of the oppressive unity that contains the heart of stone. Sinful unity leads to destruction. THAT is the message of Ezekiel 11.

 

Rich Churches and the Poor: A Reflection on the Poor in Luke 14.15-24

Tags

,

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” 16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ 19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ 21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ 22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ 23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” Luke 14.15-24 (NIV)

A heart-breaking story in “prosperous” HK surfaced this week.  It details the routine of an old lady who is nearly 80. She lives in low income housing and her only means of paying her rent was to pick up cardboard boxes dawn to dusk.  In this “prosperous” and “relatively just” city, 70% of the elderly do what this lady does to make ends meet.  This is the city where the chief executive freely admits that democracy would allow the poor to dominate, indicating that the poor occupies a substantial part of the population. I use words of prosperity and justice to describe HK because those have been the words used by many of the upper middle class church leaders there.  In contrast, Jesus told a parable in Luke 14.15-24.

Since I’m writing the Luke commentary in Chinese, I’m going to share my reflection in this blog.  Let’s see what Jesus had to say about prosperity and the kingdom. Someone told Jesus in a banquet that those who would eat at the messianic banquet were the blessed/happy ones.  Jesus told a parable in reply.  He talked about a rich host opening a banquet and the host invited all the usual rich people.  However, everyone unexpectedly made excuse not to go in Luke 14.18-20. The excuses ranged from having bought a field to having bought some animals to having gotten married. The order of field, oxen and marriage is interesting in that the excuses moved from financial to marital. The buying of field came from the upper class of Jesus’ day. The buying of oxen was due to the need to plow a large plot of land. While the ones about purchase indicate wealth, marriage seems more basic. The excuses then would seem more and more reasonable, but yet, it seems like none of excuses made here were reasonable. Why in fact would a new marriage prevented one from attending the banquet? This parable then is the mockery against those who made excuses. It is important to note that the two analogies about the field and oxen put the emphasis on wealth because of the setting of the real banquet Jesus was eating. Such banquets were the occasion one shows off his wealth and high society connections. All the excuses were of the same kind: they had other more important priorities.

Wealth played a prominent role because Jesus was sitting among the rich. The host then sent his slave to invite more to come in the parable. The places where the slave went in Luke 14.21 were probably where the outsiders hung out because what the slaves found were the down and out people. These underprivileged people would be a stark contrast with the first two excuse makers. The ability to buy a field and five oxen shows that they were men of some wealth but they didn’t go to the banquet. The Pharisee who hosted could certainly relate to this degree of wealth. The poor would be the last invited and they became more like those who were first invited, much like what Luke 13.29 says. This strange guest list is the same list Jesus used in Luke 14.13. Still there was room. So, the master told his slave to get people from all over to come in Luke 14.23. When Jesus taught this story, he taught it to the wealthy.  This story seems like a story about the future when the kingdom would be released or is it?

I propose that the Jesus’ banquet setting in which he told the story suggests otherwise. It is about the present! It is a story to the faith community and its leader, the host of Jesus’ banquet, the Pharisee, that true faith community would have unexpectedly blessed people like those who were invited last in the messianic banquet.  It is not just or even morally sound to not notice the social ills and the poor in any faith community.  The story was also written to Theophilus who was a Roman official.  He would be a patron to Luke and the church.  He too would hold banquets.  Would his banquet include those outside of his privileged circle?

When reading this story, if HK upper class church leaders and rich Christian politicians who pronounce “peace, peace” when the chief executive clearly stated this week that those who made low income had less rights, then pages of Luke 14 need to be torn out of their lectionaries and their Bibles because that would be the only way we can say that the HK society is “prosperous” and “just”.  Jesus wouldn’t have said the same thing. True prosperity is to allow the earthly faith community to reflect the value system of the messianic banquet. Anyone denouncing the effort to fight for the (democratic) rights of the poor is immoral and anti-Christian.  Instead of all the popular cheap unity many Christian leaders are calling for right now in HK, I propose that we don’t unite with such false gospel preachers.  Instead, we need to call leaders into account for supporting the system and the (Christian) politicians.  This is no time for cheap unity.  This is the time for a clear division for the blatantly right and wrong value systems.  Think about that!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 159 other followers